Sudan, Uganda, and Rebels

Sudan and Uganda have been trading accusations this year that each side is supporting rebel groups against the other. In April, Uganda charged that Sudan was backing the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a group whose rebellion began in Uganda in the 1980s but has since metastasized into a regional problem. Uganda’s Chief of Defense Forces Aronda Nyakairima stated that Joseph Kony, the LRA’s leader, was now operating out of Western Bahr el Ghazal in South Sudan near the borders with Sudan and the Central African Republic. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni even weighed in, warning Sudan not to support the LRA.

Sudan fired back with allegations that Uganda was supporting rebel groups against the Sudanese government, allegations that Uganda denied. Uganda does allow Sudanese rebel groups to operate in its territory, though. On October 4, rebel groups in the Sudanese Revolutionary Front coalition held a ceremony in Uganda’s capital Kampala where they signed a document “detailing how Sudan should be governed once the regime of President Omer Al-Bashir is brought down.” Fighting continued in Sudan this week as “Sudanese air force and ground troops attacked positions of rebels of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North on Wednesday in an attempt to halt a rebel advance on the city of Kadugli, South Kordofan’s capital.” The SPLM-N is a member of the Revolutionary Front.

Amid violence inside Sudan and diplomatic tensions between Kampala and Khartoum, Uganda and Sudan are attempting a rapprochement. Sudan Tribune reports:

Sudan and Uganda agreed to reactivate a joint committee between the two countries to discuss contentious issues and improve strained relations, a Sudanese official said .

Salah El-Din Wansi, state ministry for foreign affairs told the official news agency SUNA on Monday evening following his return from Kamala that the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, directed to reactivate a joint committee to tackle ways to improve bilateral relations and to ease tensions.

[...]

The two countries held different meetings in the past but they failed to settle the issues of rebel groups as Kampala insisted that Sudan should help to arrest Joseph Kony. But Khartoum kept saying they have no contact with the notorious rebel leader.

Sudan and Uganda made an effort at reconciliation in May, but it seems to have yielded little progress. We’ll see if this time is different. The outcome will have implications for a number of issues, including the hunt for Joseph Kony and the trajectory of negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan (of which Uganda is a major ally).

Africa News Roundup: Clinton in Africa, Strikes in Chad, Oil in Niger, and More

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s tour of Africa continues. Yesterday she traveled to South Sudan and also met with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. In Uganda, she seemed to indicate that Washington is looking toward a post-Museveni future. Today she is due in Kenya where she will also meet with Somali leaders and exhort them to complete that country’s political transition in a timely manner.

Sudan and South Sudan have reached an agreement on oil sharing.

An apparent suicide bombing wounds nine “near an air base” in Nairobi, Kenya.

The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation has announced that the country’s oil production has reached a record high of 2.7 million barrels per day.

In Yobe State, Nigeria, it appears that a suicide bomber tried to kill the Emir of Fika, but failed.

Strikes in Chad have gone on for over two weeks (French).

Niger announces new discoveries of oil.

Violence in western Cote d’Ivoire:

“The events in Duékoué, including the collective blame and mob justice, underscore the need for a concrete reconciliation process, as well as the restoration of the rule of law and state authority across the country,” Bert Koenders, the UN Special Representative to Côte d’Ivoire, told reporters on 27 July.

The attack, blamed on ethnic Malinkés and traditional hunters known as Dozos, was the second in about six weeks in the restive western region. On 8 June, armed militia killed seven UN peacekeepers and more than a dozen civilians in the Para area near the Liberian border.

Christian Science Monitor: “In Mauritanian Refugee Camp, Mali’s Tuaregs Regroup.”

What else is happening today?

Ethiopia: Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s Illness and Potential Political Changes in the Greater Horn

When Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi missed an African Union summit this past weekend, rumors spread that he was ill. News agencies reported yesterday that Meles was in “critical condition” in Brussels. By late in the day the Ethiopian government had announced that Meles was “in good condition.” Under Article 75 of the 1994 Ethiopian constitution (.pdf), Deputy Prime Minister (and Minister of Foreign Affairs) Haile-Mariam Desalegne will act on the Prime Minister’s behalf in his absence.

Meles, a former rebel leader who took power in 1991, has previously stated his desire to step down when his current term ends in 2015. If Meles leaves office, the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front will almost certainly retain power, but Meles’ absence would represent a significant political change for Ethiopia.

Indeed, Meles’ illness potentially foreshadows a coming period of political change (specifically the installation of new heads of state) for several countries in the greater Horn of Africa. Change could occur in several ways.

First, there is retirement. Meles is not the only leader in the region who has said he will step down in 2015 – Sudanese President Omar al Bashir made the same promise during a small wave of protests in early 2011, and Djibouti’s President Ismael Guellah has stated that he will step down in 2016. Some observers have doubted the sincerity of these pledges, but Meles in particular sometimes seems fatigued and ready to give up the job, an appearance that this illness underscores.

Elections will bring changes in leadership elsewhere in the region. Many observers expect Somalia’s ongoing political transition, which includes presidential elections next month, to produce a government fairly similar in personnel to the current Transitional Federal Government. But in Kenya, presidential elections set to take place in 2013 must produce a new head of state. President Mwai Kibaki, who has reached the limit of two five-year terms, cannot run again, leaving the field open to a number of major politicians, including current Prime Minister Raila Odinga and current Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta.

Other transitions, as Meles’ case reminds us, could come about because of sudden illness or death, a grim possibility but one that must be mentioned. These leaders are not old: indeed, all of them (not counting Kibaki) are short of seventy – Meles was born in 1955, Bashir in 1944, South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir in 1951, Somalia’s President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed in 1964, Eritrea’s President Isaias Afewerki in 1946, Djibouti’s President Ismail Guellah in 1947, and Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni around 1944. Yet four of them have been in power for over nineteen years (Museveni came to power in 1986, Bashir in 1989, Meles in 1991, and Isaias in 1993). The high stress of being head of state seems to accelerate aging in some leaders. There remain only six African leaders who have been in office longer than Museveni.

Finally, no leader in the region has faced a monumental threat from mass protests, but significant anti-regime protests have occurred in the last two years in Sudan, Uganda, and Djibouti. If nothing else, such protests add to the pressures these heads of state face in other areas.

It is possible, of course, that in three or four years only Kenya, out of all the countries in the greater Horn, will have new leadership. But a combination of factors could produce transitions in Ethiopia, Sudan, Djibouti, and elsewhere, potentially shaking up, within a relatively short period of time, what has long been a fairly stable roster of leaders.

Uganda and North Africa

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has, it seems, been paying attention to the “Arab spring” since it began. During the Ugandan presidential elections in February, in which Museveni won a fourth official term, government authorities banned the use of certain words in text messaging. These included “Egypt”, “bullet,” “people power,” “Tunisia”, “Mubarak”, “dictator”, “teargas”, “army”, “police”, “gun”, “Ben Ali” and “UPDF,” the last term being the acronym of the Ugandan armed forces.

Not too long afterward, NATION intervened in Libya, and Museveni was upset. In late March, he wrote a widely circulated article for Foreign Policy in which he cited double standards in the West’s treatment of Libya (versus, for example, Bahrain), lamented what he saw as the bypassing of the African Union in the decisionmaking process, and expressed concern about the potentially long-lasting, negative consequences of the intervention. Whether one agrees with Museveni or not (and I do on some issues), the point is that Museveni seems to fear how the “Arab spring” might reshape African politics.

During the spring, Uganda saw the “Walk to Work” movement, in which opposition leader Kizza Besigye mobilized hundreds to protest high food and fuel prices. These protests were primarily related to domestic troubles, rather than foreign influences, but the harshness of the government crackdown hinted that “the nearby Arab Spring revolutions can’t be far from Museveni’s mind.”

This week, Ugandan activists made explicit reference to the North African revolutions:

Pressure group Activists 4 Change wants to hold a rally in the capital Kampala on Friday to “celebrate people power in North Africa” following the overthrow of the leaders of Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.

The group has emailed invitations accompanied by a flyer featuring photos of the toppled rulers crossed out — with Uganda’s long-serving President Yoweri Museveni lined up as the next to go.

Police banned the rally. If activists push forward, as they have in the past, there could be bloodshed again.

Talk of an “African spring” has largely crested and fallen. President Blaise Compaore retained power in Burkina Faso, the sub-Saharan African country which experienced perhaps the most serious protests this year. Gabon’s President Ali Bongo withstood major protests there. Museveni is unlikely to fall any time soon. And leaders who look vulnerable, like Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade, are not under threat so much because of contagion from North Africa, but because pent-up local grievances are coming to the fore amid (pre-)electoral campaigning.

Still, the “Arab spring” has changed the way activists in countries like Uganda frame their demands and view heads of state. And it has changed how heads of state view their own position. Going forward, both sides will likely continue to mull over the lessons of the North African revolutions, with each side trying to stay once step ahead of the other on the organizational, technological, and political levels.

Africa News Roundup: Senegal, Sudan, Kenya, and More

Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade gave a defiant speech on Thursday in which he reiterated his intention to run for a third term and predicted that he would win. Wade even offered to move the elections forward. Senegal saw major protests recently over constitutional changes that Wade had proposed, and opposition figures have continued to call for Wade’s resignation.

In North Sudan, Blue Nile State – the only Northern state governed by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM, the ruling party in the newly independent South Sudan) – may soon become a site of violence.

Kenya’s next presidential election will not be held until 2012, but that doesn’t mean the politics of the moment are simple. Daily Nation reports:

President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga have just two days to set in motion the mechanism that will give the country a new Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.

[...]

The elections body, meanwhile, faces a huge logistical nightmare after the proposed law on citizens granted Kenyans in the Diaspora the right to vote in the 2012 elections.

Meanwhile, as the worst East African drought in decades rages on, Kenya is planning to open a fourth refugee camp at the Dadaab site.

VOA says that Uganda’s “Walk to Work” protests have a mixed legacy:

The Ugandan Government has dropped charges against opposition leader Kizza Besigye for his role in the April “Walk to Work” protests. But it appears the demonstrations, which provoked international cries for democracy, may have had the opposite effect.

On Wednesday, the Ugandan government formally withdrew charges against three-time presidential candidate and opposition figure  Besigye for incitement of violence during the “Walk to Work” protests.

In April, Besigye, along with members of Uganda’s opposition parties staged bi-weekly marches to protest the rising cost of food and fuel in the east African nation. Besigye was arrested multiple times, receiving numerous injuries at the hands of police, and was at one stage being forced to fly to Nairobi for treatment. Protesters were confronted by units of Uganda’s police force, leaving nine dead and hundreds more injured.

As the international community took notice of the protests, “Walk to Work” became as much a protest of Uganda’s flagging economy as a referendum on the long rule of President Yoweri Museveni. Once hailed as an anchor of stability in an unstable region, Museveni received harsh criticism and calls for an end to his quarter-century rule.

With Besigye’s charges being quietly dropped Wednesday, however, it appears the restrictions on free speech and public assembly employed by Museveni to quell the protests are more entrenched than before.

Burkina Faso has discharged over 500 soldiers. The country experienced waves of protests and mutinies throughout the spring, but in recent weeks the political scene has been relatively quiet there.

What are you reading today?

Uganda on Strike

Following the re-election of President Yoweri Museveni in February, Uganda attracted worldwide attention for the opposition-led “Walk to Work” protests, which gave voice to (at least some) people’s anger over rising costs of living. Walk to Work faded, but last week Ugandan traders closed their shops to protest high prices, and this week taxi drivers are striking over high fees for parking. Inflation is still a problem for Ugandans, and their anger is still a problem for Museveni.

Here’s Uganda’s New Vision on the traders’ strike:

Minister of trade Amelia Kyambadde and her counterpart of finance Maria Kiwanuka [appeared Friday] before Parliament to explain what remedies they have for a crisis sparked off by biting inflation and high import taxes.

This followed a two-day paralyzing traders strike in Kampala flickered by the high taxes and inflation, which forced Parliament Speaker Rebecca Kadaga to summon the duo to explain what remedies they have for the crisis.

This was after MPs last week demanded an explanation that was scheduled to be made by the two ministers on Thursday, but both eluded the sitting, to the chagrin of the House.

…and Reuters on the taxi drivers:

Ugandan taxi drivers kept their cars off the streets on Monday to protest high parking fees, paralysing transport in the capital and adding to a rash of strikes and protests in the east African nation.

Stranded commuters were forced to hop on motorcycle taxis, which quickly hiked their fares amid crushing demand, while tens of thousands of others walked miles to work in the capital Kampala.

The taxi drivers were protesting exorbitant parking fees charged by Utoda, a government-contracted private company that manages the city’s transport system, said leaders of the drivers’ association.

Some of the traders’ grievances, it should be noted, have to do with the presence of Indian and Chinese businessmen in Uganda. Angry citizens, then, may direct their anger not only upward, at politicians, but also outward, at their neighbors and competitors. In either case pressure will increase for the government to take action on inflation.

Cameroon Looks Toward Elections as Incumbents in Africa Face Popular Anger

If I were an African incumbent facing re-election, I would feel pretty good about my chances: in the past year, presidents like Burkina Faso’s Blaise Compaore, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, and Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan have won solid victories over divided oppositions. But I would not be eager to face the popular anger that has dogged incumbents this year. In Burkina Faso, civilian protests and soldiers’ mutinies shook Compaore’s regime from late February through early June. Museveni cruised to re-election in February only to see the world-famous “Walk to Work” movement spring up weeks later. Jonathan’s April electoral triumph was followed by riots in Northern Nigeria. In Senegal, incumbent President Abdoulaye Wade last week withdrew a set of proposed constitutional changes because of the backlash they generated.

Yaoundé

Yaoundé, Cameroon

Cameroonian President Paul Biya is a veteran politician. But at 78 years old, and with over twenty-eight years in power, he is the type of figure that protesters, especially in Senegal and Uganda, have been rejecting in 2011. That does not mean Biya will lose when Cameroon holds its presidential elections in October – after all, he has won three multi-party elections (1992, 1997, and 2004), including a close contest in 1992, and he maintained power through the mass protests of 2008, which concerned high costs of living as well as Biya’s decision to remove constitutional term limits on his tenure. Biya is still the favorite to win. But if the current wave of dissatisfaction with (in particular West) African incumbents lasts through the fall, Biya’s victory might come at the price of serious popular anger.

US officials recognize this potential. While calls from Washington for African countries to hold free and fair elections are pretty standard, I find it noteworthy that Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson has taken pains, over three months before Cameroon holds its elections, to raise concerns:

Carson met with Cameroon president Paul Biya and the country’s prime minister during a visit and urged the leaders to hold a free and fair election, a statement from the U.S. Embassy said.

[...]

“He (Carson) said…that any intimidation of presidential candidates and leaders of civil society by governmental authorities in the run up to the elections will be viewed by the international community as having a negative impact on the credibility of the electoral process,” [the statement] said.

With political tensions swirling, Cameroon’s external borrowing increasing, and inflation mounting across much of Africa, Cameroon has many of the ingredients that produced protests elsewhere. That possibility has clearly already occurred to officials in Washington, and likely it is a topic of discussion in Yaounde as well.